Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Gear Acquisition Syndrome Update

As stated in my previous blog entry, there's some new gear habitating in the GTK Studio as well as some new software lurking on the GTK Studio Computer. So here goes:

First up, I'll take you through the new hardware starting with the small but most perfectly formed Korg Monotron Delay. I already have the original Korg Monotron (blog entry HERE), but as Korg thoughtfully and cleverly offer three different flavours, I thought it was time to sample the next dish they had to offer. The Monotron Delay is one very cool piece of kit and for it's size, is something of an analogue powerhouse.

The Monotron Delay has exactly the same build and layout as the original, that being five knobs and a three-way slider switch on the front panel, as well as the ribbon controller, integrated speaker, headphone output and auxiliary input. It's only when you check out the controls that the massive difference between the two become apparent, as well as the cosmetics of course. The Monotron Delay has the same black case and reverse coloured keys, but it's livery is definitely retro(ish) Sci-Fi paint job and under the hood, there's some rather nice analogue-style delay circuitry.

The Monotron Delay's name should immediately give away its unique selling point. The main attraction here is that Korg has crammed a small but perfectly formed delay circuit into the Monotron's case, but there are a number of other small changes. The single Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO) has the same reverse sawtooth wave as the original Monotron, however, the Low Frequency Oscilator (LFO) offers a square wave in addition to the triangle. On the Monotron Delay,  the LFO only modulates the VCO pitch and doesn't have any effect on the filter cutoff. This Monotron is more about effects rather than melody, the four octave range of the ribbon controller makes it nigh on impossible to play any form of accurate melody line, but that's no problem as the delay circuitry is the main player here.

You can adjust the delay time from a few milliseconds to around roughly one second and the feedback control pretty much bypasses the delay at the lowest settings, but by turning it the feedback control, you go from slap-back echoes to some seriously dubby spacey, infinite repeats. As I said above, it's a small unit, but it has a massive sound, which is quite a surprise as there are a number of exciting effects that can be created.

The Monotron Delay is gloriously noisy, and when you start with the higher feedback settings, you get a lovely crescendo of white noise in with the signal. You can also feed external signals through the delay, and boy do they sound dirty. I think you get that I like this unit.

Next up is the deal of the century (yeah, another one). Taking pride of place alongside the Roland Juno-D and the Alesis QS6 is a 1990's classic synth - the Korg 01/W FD. I first played around on one of these little cuties at David Wright's Planet Recording Studio and I fell for it in a moment, so it was quite a thrill when one became available as you don't often see them up for sale. This was hailed as the successor to the classic Korg M1. Legend has it that the design team read the name of the synth upside down as it should have been the Korg M10, but the powers that be felt that 01/W had quite a ring to it. The 01/W sounds simply amazing with truly wonderful string/orchestral sounds and synth pads to die for. It's a 20 year old machine, but it still sounds relevent. As a keyboard, it's lovely to play with good action, velocity sensitive and of course, aftertouch. It has an on-board 16-track sequencer, which I have yet to try out, but this is something I will be doing very soon as I want to use the 01/W to run the rack synths during my Awakenings set.

I picked up three excellent effects pedals from Behringer, being the DD600 Digital Delay, UF300 Ultra Flanger and VP1 Vintage Phaser. I've been using these pedals with the Monotrons and the iPhone to great effect, so I intend to use them all as part of my Awakenings set in July. The DD600 gives a lovely clear delay signal and can go from metallic slap-backs to long and luscious delays that would be a space rocker's idea of heaven. The UF300 is a great little flanger and as well as the usual jet flanging, you can manually control the depth of the effect leading some really nice, rich sound washes, particuarly with synth pads. The same can be said of the VP1, a smart looking unit that is based on the legendary Small Stone Phaser as used by Jean-Michel Jarre. It's warm, luscious and with a nice long reverb, totally ethereal sounding.

With all the synths that have found their way into the GTK Studio, I had to reinforce the Unitor 8 MIDI interface, and I was rather fortunate to find a very cheap, but fully functional, Emagic AMT-8 8 in/8 out MIDI interface. It is, essentially, the same as the Unitor 8, but the important difference is that the AMT-8 has a USB connection - it's making a massive difference to how the GTK Studio equipment is now connected and also allows me to use some rather ancient, but very usable synth editing software called Sound Diver. The one drawback I have is that both the interfaces are not compatible with Windows 7, however I have got round this with a bit of lateral thinking in terms of audio routing and also by using my old Windows XP computer. Happily, all is working as it should.

On the software front, I've also been busy getting hold of new synths and effects.

I was very pleased to be able to pick up the VSTi version of the famous ARP Odyssey synthesizer, namely GForce Software's incredible The Oddity. It's an amazing rendition of a classic synthesizer as used by my musical heroes Billy Currie (of Ultravox), John Foxx and of course, Gary Numan. Coupled with an overdrive pedal and a flanger, you've got the classic Ultravox lead sound giving rise to lots of squeally moments, and it's also for great effects and synth drum/percussion sounds. I've been yearning for this piece of software for a long time and I when I found a U.S. dealer offering it at a rather competitive price, I had to go for it.
I had purchased and also got a load of freebie effects from Minimal System Instruments. This is a great software house that is putting out some very high quality products and really well worth checking. I have their Nebula Space Reverb and Punch Compressor (an emulation of the famous 1175 compressor). Both these units sound incredible, with the Nebula proving to be a great companion to the Hollow Sun sample packs.

Talking of high quality, music software giant Waves recently had their Q10 Paragrahic Equaliser up for grabs at a mere $9 - that was just over a fiver in proper money, unbelievable!!! The normal asking price for this unit is $99 so yes, a true bargain and one not to be missed. It sounds great, is very intuitive and gives any signal passing through it a real shine.

Also joining the GTK Studio software ranks is the most awesomely excellent CamelSpace from Camel Audio, How can I describe this piece of software? Insane. Essentially, it's a rhythmic multi-effects unit and it can do a whole load of audio carnage to your tracks by adding dynamic interest to any you put through it, be it synth pad, drum loop etc. It has a rhythmic multi-effect, to add dynamic interest to pads, synths, drums and more. It has a powerful 128-step 'trance gate' that can control the filter cut-off, pan and volume, an auto-panner, an enhancer, a flanger, a multi-mode filter, a stereo delay AND reverb . It's amazingly easy to use both through it's excellent GUI and using a MIDI controller and comes with a stack of presets to get you started. I anticipate using this a lot as I really like what it can do with all it's different modules interplaying. I love it already.

Whilst we're on the subject of Camel Audio, I downloaded their updated Alchemy Player, an excellent little freebie synth that features an awful lot of presets from it's flagship Alchemy synthesizer. I was very pleased to discover that you can buy the sound sets and use them in the player, so expect a few postings in the future as I start to collect those.

Through a stroke of luck, I got hold of another excellent soft-synth from Novation called the V-Station. This little powerhouse synth is an emulation of Novation's K-Station and shares it's flexible 3 oscillators, powerful filters and on-board effects. I like the raw sound of this synthesizer and it sits beautifully within a mix. Again, expect to hear it on "Hollow Sun".

Another software package I've been after for a while is the Waldorf Edition. It comprises an excellent filter called D-Pole, a very usable drum machine called Attack and the one thing I wanted more than the other two products in this pack, the PPG Wave 2.V, a seriously cool software emulation of the 1980's must-have synth, the venerable PPG Wave 2.2. The Wave 2.V is a hugely impressive piece of programming and has a very wide range of sounds and effects from anolgue sounding pads to extreme digital effects. I love this synth and look forward to getting under it's hood and playing around with it's inner workings. Of note is that designer of the original PPG Wave 2.2, Wolfgang Palm, was instrumental in the development of the software version. Not sure it can be any better than that in terms of endorsement.
My good friend Steven Howell has sent me through some more of his madcap offerings in the shape of the Optomotron and a new Alien Devices unit called "Sounds of the Universe", or SOTU for short. I love Steven's Hollow Sun products and they are already featuring VERY heavily on the next Geigertek album, which as you already know, is called "Hollow Sun".

Joining the GTK Studio drum/rhythm software section is a very interesting little bundle from software house Supewave. Called the Superwave 7x7 Bundle, it comprises two modules, the D-707 and the D-727, based on Roland's excellent TR-707 and TR-727 drum machines from the 1980's (I recall using a Roland TR-707 back in the mid-1980's and loving it immensely). The D-707 comprises the standard kick, snare, hi-hat etc collection of sounds whilst the D-727 is all latin percussion - a great combo and certainly prime fodder for effects units such as CamelSpace. The sounds are very faithful to the original and will sit nicely alongside Battery 3 and EZDrummer.

So, for now that's it on the hardware front, having said that, I do have my eye on some more effects pedals (a Behringer EM600 Echo Machine is on order and should be here soon) and some high-end software but we shall have to see how the finances pan out on that :-D

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